Tax Legislation in the Contemporary U.S. Congress

Michael Doran

University of Virginia - School of Law

September 22, 2014

Tax Law Review, Forthcoming
Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-59

This paper identifies and analyzes a recent trend toward “clean” federal tax legislation. Existing explanations of the tax-legislative process account for the regular, highly particularistic tax legislation prevalent during the 1980s and the early 1990s using legislator-motivation and traditional policy models. But a new tax-legislative process, characterized by alternating periods of tax gridlock and strikingly non-particularistic tax legislation, emerged during the late 1990s. This paper argues that tax gridlock and non-particularistic tax legislation are best understood as companion phenomena, and it examines three general determinants of recent tax-legislative outcomes. First, exogenous events, particularly macro-economic and macro-political developments, typically provide the central policy objective for any item of major tax legislation. Second, the voting behavior of individual legislators on tax legislation corresponds closely to generally accepted understandings of legislator motivations. Third and most importantly, several legislative-organizational developments within Congress – specifically, the emergence of sharp coalitional polarization and strong coalitional cohesion, the re-establishment of centralized chamber management, and the relaxation of restrictions on the federal budget – combined to produce the new tax-legislative process during the late 1990s and the 2000s. This paper does not offer a positive theory of the tax-legislative process or make predictions about tax-legislative outcomes. Rather, it builds on existing accounts to provide an updated and more nuanced explanation of the tax-legislative process in the contemporary Congress.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 62

Keywords: Tax, Legislation, Tax Legislation, Legislative Organization, Legislative Process

JEL Classification: H20, K34

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Date posted: December 15, 2013 ; Last revised: September 29, 2014

Suggested Citation

Doran, Michael, Tax Legislation in the Contemporary U.S. Congress (September 22, 2014). Tax Law Review, Forthcoming; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-59. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2367760

Contact Information

Michael Doran (Contact Author)
University of Virginia - School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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